The holidays are over. What’s next? A brand new year brimming with possibility. Ready to start working on what you are going to create in 2013? Why don’t we start by letting go of any stress that we might have dragged into the New Year?
In other words, let’s get centered, grounded and clear in mind and body. Today’s post is written by Dr. Harrison Darling of Health Advantage Health and Wellness Center in Pasadena, CA. In this excellent article she gives us an effective technique for breathing away stress.
It’s the middle of the night. You are all tucked up warm and safe in bed when the quiet is shattered by the explosive sound of breaking glass. You are awake instantly, heart pounding, acutely aware of your surroundings, and moving before you have the time to figure out where you are going.
This instantaneous and focused reaction is the good side of stress, and it kept humans alive when we were at a physical disadvantage early in our history. There were a lot of bigger, scarier, tougher and better armed threats out there, and the only thing we had in our defense was our brain. Luckily, our brains are kinda clever, so in times of need our brains direct the body to produce a series of hormones that allow us to survive the next few minutes. Cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine (all products of the adrenal glands) change the bodies chemistry to give you immediate energy and awareness.
All this is great if you are being chased by a tiger or hear a loud noise in the middle of the night, right? But what if the stress you are dealing with is more than a matter of survival for the next few minutes? What if it’s a 9 hour a day job, or a family upheaval, or a divorce or one of any of a million of other things we cope with in modern life? Unfortunately, as I said earlier, our brains are only kinda clever, and under situations of prolonged anxiety the brain produces the exact same combo of hormones. The results? Not so good.
Long exposure to cortisol depresses the immune system and inhibits collagen production. A depressed immune system has you sick more often and for longer, and decreased collagen weakens the body tissues, leaving you vulnerable to injury or, worse yet, wrinkles. Ladies, stress is making you look older than you are!! (well, gents, you too but you tend to worry less about that sort of thing) Epinephrine for prolonged periods can cause damage to the muscles of the heart, leading to heart disease. It also leads to constipation, erectile dysfunction (that one is for you, gents…do I have your attention now?) and high blood pressure. Norepinephrine exposure for long periods can be a factor in depression, difficulty making important decisions, and difficulty with concentration, especially during multi-tasking.
So, what is a modern human to do? We can’t change our external environment (traffic, crappy bosses, noisy neighbors, etc) so we need to change what we can control -our internal environment. How, you ask? So easy. All you have to do is breathe.
I can imagine your collective eye rolling, folks. Just stay with me for a few more minutes.
Breathing is such an automatic function of our bodies, we barely ever think about it. So when we do think about it, it flips a switch in our autonomic nervous system and creates a clinically measurable therapeutic response. It changes the focus of the brain and makes the brain operate a little differently. And your stressed out brain could certainly use a little change of pace, am I right?
So, here’s how it goes. Sit comfortably, close your eyes. Put one hand on your chest, and one hand on your belly. Take a big breath in, and try to feel it all the way down to your belly…your belly should pouch out as you inhale. Let the breath leave your body (don’t blow it out, or push it out, just let it leave by itself). Take another big breath in, and feel this one in your chest. Your ribcage should move a bit as you inhale. Let that one go. Go back and forth between the belly and the chest 2 or 3 times, just focusing on keeping the breath moving from belly to chest. Now switch hands. Keep deep breathing, and alternating between belly breaths and chest breaths, 2 big breaths on each. Now put both hands in your lap, palms facing your legs. 4 more breaths, 2 belly and 2 chest. Now change your hands again so the palms are up, and 4 more breaths, 2 belly and 2 chest. Open your eyes.
This practice of taking control of your breath has just changed a feedback loop in your brain. Your hypothalamus has just mellowed out and stopped sending panicked messages to your adrenals. Your adrenals have stopped being barraged with demands to produce more stress hormones, and they are now sitting up saying “now what the heck was all THAT about?”. Your blood glucose is normalizing, your immune system is waking up, your heart and lungs are slowing and your mind is clearer. Rather nice, isn’t it? Now, of course, in about three minutes you will be moving back toward your old stress levels, but that interruption has made an impression.
Make this breathing routine a regular part of your day. Do it at your desk, in the car, in line at the store. Any time you feel overwhelmed, anxious, angry, confused or pressured, just stop, take a minute, and breathe. With regular practice your brain will get used to this flipping of the switch, and will begin to respond faster. With regular practice and a little time (ok, a lot of time) just one mindful breath and your brain will get the message and lower your levels. Like I said…kinda clever, our brains. The trick is consistency; it doesn’t happen overnight, or just because you want it to. You have to practice. The benefits, however, are massive and have an extraordinary effect on your overall health.
Dr. Harrison Darling is a chiropractor who doesn’t just “crack your back” and send you on your way. She gives you the tools to attain better posture, better function and better health. Her mission is to save the world, one adjustment at a time. For contact info, click here.
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Your companion on the journey to transformation,